Thinking further about my situation, I’m thinking about a chapter I recently read by Robert Merton. He highlights a discrepancy between socially approved goals and the available means for achieving those goals. And I’m remembering that as my life fell apart—which might be said to have occurred at any or some or all of multiple points along my journey—it was apparent to me that this society kicks people who are down. It does not act humanely; rather it stigmatizes them and, for the most part, never lets them up.
In my own experience this appears as, no matter what skills I acquire, the jobs are exported or I will not be hired; no matter what jobs I accept, I am abused and paid less than what it costs to live; and now, no matter how high a level of education I acquire, higher education will be defunded, so my employment prospects remain dim. As I’ve noted, I’ve been resisting taking this personally. But it is apparent that some way, some how, I ended up on the wrong side of a merciless and unforgiving society whose ethical basis is challenged.
I’ve been reflecting on a story I told in my blog entry earlier today:
I was on site at Bally’s Park Place on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City (just in case you’re trying to place those names, the Monopoly board game took its place names from Atlantic City) when I heard a conversation about the customers.
Unlike in Nevada, casinos closed at night. This was on a three-day weekend and apparently the streets were filled with people waiting to get in on a Saturday morning. I don’t remember the precise words, but I do remember my impression. The managers I was listening to clearly viewed those people like cattle being led to the slaughter, not merely as means to richly profitable ends, but as pathetic in a sense that they deserved to be exploited.
I tried. I really did.
I remember graduating with an Associates degree in Business Data Processing in 1979. I’d been told this would make me employable. And, for a time, it seemed it did.
My first job was for Bally Systems Division, a part of Bally Manufacturing. Bally Manufacturing was best known to me for pinball machines, but as it turned out they were also a major slot machine manufacturer. My immediate supervisor was okay, but his boss was ferociously intimidating, and so naturally it was the ferociously intimidating one who dominated our existence. I was on site at Bally’s Park Place on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City (just in case you’re trying to place those names, the Monopoly board game took its place names from Atlantic City) when I heard a conversation about the customers.
I’ve had problems finding work for a long time—my problems marketing myself really cannot be reduced to the current financial crisis, though a pattern of increasingly severe recessions certainly has not helped.
Today I’m remembering how I responded to an ad for a warehouse job, only to discover that it was really a door-to-door sales job. After a couple days trying this, I remember walking back to my car, thinking to myself that this is what this society had come to, where the only jobs that were being created were sales jobs. It was, for me, a terribly depressing moment. And I would also learn, going door-to-door for a non-profit organization that I really cannot sell even that which I believe in. It’s simply not how I’m put together.
It’s an issue that won’t go away. Barack Obama, the United States’ first black president, has refused to unequivocally acknowledge the racism that has afflicted his presidency since before he was even elected.
It’s possible to argue that naming racism would not help, that it would only further antagonize those who deny their own racism. But in his remarks about the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch captain in Sanford, Florida, saying of the young man, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama may finally have come to a recognition that pretending that we live in what some have called a “post-racial” society has also not worked.
Update, December 31, 2012: Joshua Holland’s refusal to confront the history of federal involvement in the suppression of dissent, for example, programs like COINTELPRO, has not been vindicated by another release of documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. Naomi Wolf’s response is here.
Update, January 8, 2014: Holland has finally confronted the history of COINTELPRO. Please see the comments.
There was something very striking about the vehemence of Alternet senior writer Joshua Holland’s repeated insistence that there was no proof of federal involvement in crackdowns on the Occupy Wall Street movement and the urgency with which he sought to silence Naomi Wolf.
Note: This posting originally appeared in my research journal. Technical issues prevented its publication here at that time.
“Those of us who are not part of the ruling class, race, or gender, not a part of the minority which controls our world,” writes Nancy Hartsock (1987/2010) in response to a common post-modern tendency to devalue assertions about physical reality, “need to know how it works” (p. 496). Pauline Rosenau (1992) picks up the theme:
Post-modern views of reality are reproached for some of the same shortcomings as idealist philosophical conceptions of reality. Critics argue that debate over issues such as the existence of an independent reality are of interest only to post-modernists (and other intellectuals) who, insulated from reality, never personally experience the violence, terror, and degradation prevalent in modern society. They point to the brutal presence of an “obviously existing reality” that solidifies around poverty, starvation, AIDS, drugs, and gang warfare. Only if one’s daily life, daily “lived” reality, is not harsh and unpleasant could one conceive of reality as entirely a mental construction. (pp. 111-112).